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Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review: Unbroken, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an unequivocal 5 stars. Put it on your bookshelf with other powerful WWII survivor stories like Night and Man's Search for Meaning. It's an incredible story of survival, of rising above insurmountable challenges, and of hope and faith.

Laura Hillenbrand took seven years to research and write before Unbroken was published! The notes section, in its tiny font, accounts for close to 1/4 of the pages in the book. Hillenbrand provides details and backstories that give the reader a very clear understanding of events. Each page is so information-dense, I had to slow my usual reading pace way down to make sure I got everything.

After reading this, I saw Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian's Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in World War IIat the library, which looked an awful lot like "Unbroken." Turns out it's an autobiography of Zamperini written with a co-author. I was astounded to see the difference between the two books.

I thought that the reason Unbroken was so superior to Zamperini's autobiography was that with an omniscient eye, Hillenbrand could include details that came from many sources, not just Zamperini's memory. It was a much more thorough picture of his life. I also didn't like his ghost writer's voice; it read like sport journalism. There's nothing wrong with that if you enjoy that style, but it made me appreciate Hillenbrand's approach that much more when I had something to compare it to. Her style just doesn't draw attention to itself. She lets the story speak for itself and gets out of the way.

I was concerned before reading this that the subject (WWII POW) was going to be very dark, and I steeled myself. But the overall feeling of the book I've come away with is not one of darkness but truly the unbroken nature of one man's spirit and his ability to overcome, and through that, seeing the ability of the human spirit itself to triumph over tragedy and despair. It was inspiring.

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